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Recreational Vehicle Safety Tips for Your RV

RV people are always happy to share advice with each other. Since we’re so involved with RV insurance, we’ve learned a lot about common accidents that create a lot of claims. Here’s how to avoid these accidents–and help keep your premiums low.

Always do a pre-drive safety check.

A "walk-around" visual inspection can save your life.

  • Make sure bay doors are closed and latched.
  • Double-check tow bar and safety cables.
  • Disconnect all power, TV, phone, water and sewer lines.
  • Retract jacks, steps, and awnings.
  • Look under the rig for signs of fluid leaks.
  • Check oil, transmission and coolant levels.
  • Check air brakes, parking brake and tow brakes.
  • Make sure stove, oven and heater burners are not lit.
  • Check the propane tank for leaks and intake/exhaust lines for blockages.
  • Inspect tire inflation pressure and tread wear.
  • Make sure smoke and propane leak detectors are working.
  • Check your surroundings (weather, overhangs and ground hazards).

Know your propane.

Keeping those tanks safe is a big job.

  • Install a propane gas detector.
  • Don’t paint your tank a dark color. It could attract too much sunlight, overheat and explode.
  • Don’t travel with the stove, oven or heater burners lit.
  • Never refuel with any propane appliance running or engine running.
  • Make sure older propane tanks have an overfill protection device and check intake and exhaust vents for birds nests and other blockages.
  • Avoid refrigerator fires. Have your propane tank regularly checked by a certified dealer to make sure lines are in good shape and not leaking.

Follow the Rule of 20 Percent.

Fully loaded rigs have slower acceleration and take longer to stop than cars. To compensate, add 20 percent to everything you do, from increasing your following distance, to judging if you have enough clearance, to safely merging into traffic.

Protect yourself from blowouts.

Blowouts count for the majority of RV insurance claims. They’re caused by improper inflation, worn tread or an overloaded/overweight vehicle. To avoid cracking, regularly wash your tires with mild soap, water and a soft brush. To prevent UV damage, keep your tires covered when you’re not driving.

  • Under- and over-inflation can both lead to blowouts. Check the inflation pressure on your tires at least once a month and always before a trip. Do this when tires are cold, since heat from driving temporarily increases air pressure. Never remove air from a hot tire. It can create dangerous under-inflation when the tire cools.
  • Block and level your RV each time you plan to keep it in one place for a couple of days or longer.
  • If you pick up a nail, don’t plug it from the outside. Have the tire dismounted and a repair made from the inside.
  • Replace any tire that’s over 7 years old, no matter how good the treads seem to look.

Practice S.A.F.E. cornering.

Slowly approach the turn.

Arc the turn. Be careful not to start by swinging in the opposite direction, which can confuse drivers behind you.

Finish your turn completely. Don’t straighten the wheel before the back of the vehicle has cleared the pivot point.

Experience is key. Practice, practice, practice.

Go easy on the brakes.

RVs use air brakes rather than the hydraulic brakes in cars, and they have a very different feel. Easy does it. You’ll notice a slight delay when you apply the brakes, but that’s normal. If you overcompensate by pushing hard on the pedal, you’ll make an abrupt stop.

Know your height.

Believe it or not, hitting bridges and overhangs is one of the most common RV accidents. Know your exact clearance and write it on a sticky note on your dashboard. Speaking of measurement, the average RV is 8.5 feet wide and the average highway, about 10 feet. That gives you only a foot and a half of wiggle room.

How to break out of a rut.

If you feel your front wheel slipping off the road into a rut, follow these steps:

  • Take your foot off the gas and gently brake. Jamming the brakes can get you deeper into the rut.
  • Keep steering your RV forward.
  • Once you’ve slowed down, gently turn to the left and ease out of the rut slowly. If you overcorrect by jerking the wheel left, you might jackknife.

Grow eyes behind your head.

You can’t see many hazards from the driver’s seat of an RV. The best way to back up safely is to ask an assistant to stand outside of the RV and guide you. Develop hand signals so you understand each other. Always back in to tight places, and pull out facing forward.

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